Narcissists have a main need for control. They need to control colleagues, children, parents, friends, and you. This is how they get their supply. Much like we need air to physically live, a controlling narcissist needs admiration, attention and accolades to emotionally survive. And most narcissists will do anything to get that supply because they have no empathy.
When a narcissist tries to control, we have options on what we say or do. We can respond or react. Here’s the difference
A response is based on intellect, patience and thinking things through. You retain your power and dignity.
A reaction is based on emotion and occurs immediately after the offense has taken place. You give away your power and become defensive.
Here are some examples of how I responded or reacted when a controlling narcissist pushed me into a corner:
1. The narcissist would often implement a double standard with me.
My ex-partner, Shane, would take several trips with the guys each year. They liked to attend motorcycle rallies in different parts of the country, including the infamous one in Sturgis, South Dakota. Shane would be gone for weeks at a time.
The caveat was that Shane wouldn’t allow me to even have drinks with a girlfriend. He told me that to girls at a bar or restaurant were prime targets to be hit on by men. He wouldn’t tolerate that, he said.
My reaction: was based on sadness that I was so controlled and feat that he would leave me. I said, “Ok, Shane. I understand. I’ll have friends here so you can meet them and be around.”
A good response would have been: “Shane, I understand your fears, but they are unfounded. I plan to have dinner with girlfriends on Friday. I need friends in my life.”
2. Narcissists also use triangulation to manipulate others.
I was often compared to two ex-wives and 3 ex-girlfriends. Shane would talk about their makeup, hair and dress, then contrast it with what I preferred. I remember him asking me to show him what I was wearing before an event one evening.
My reaction: was again based on sadness and fear. He demanded that I try my dress on for him. I stood there, praying for his approval.
My response should have been: ” Shane, you have nothing to worry about. I will look nice and professional for your work event. You’ll see me in my dress when it’s time to go.”
3. Narcissists are also skilled at shaming.
For some abuse survivors, this is the most damaging manipulation tool. Shaming is when the narcissist humiliates you privately or in public. It’s an effort to destroy who you are, not truly point out what perceived wrong you’ve done. A main phrase I remember from my childhood is “shame on you”. I took this as shame on the person that I am, not the mistake that I made.
As an adult, shame still hurt. I recall one evening when we hired a babysitter for my toddler son so Shane and I could go to dinner. The sitter complimented me on my appearance. Shane told her, “The only reason Laura is so skinny is that she had an eating disorder in college. “
My reaction: was based on shock and anger and I said, “How dare you embarrass me. That was a terrible time in my life and has nothing to do with how I look now.”
A healthy response would have been: “Shane, I will not let you talk to or about me like that. You need to apologize to me and the sitter for sharing something so personal.”
4. Narcissists goad us because they want a reaction and they crave the drama.
Just like when the narcissist will nit and pick at a person, then when the person finally blows up, the narcissist says, “See, I can’t even have a civil conversation with you.”
A reaction: would be to yell and throw insults.
A response: would be to tell the controlling narcissist that a conversation can take place when there’s equal time for speaking. Until that happens, you will leave the room.
Finally, when the narcissist tries to control you, don’t get defensive. Take a deep breath and count to five. Then respond. Keep your dignity and power. Hold on to your respect. Along with peace, it’s what you deserve the most.